I'm getting pretty pumped about finishing off this list, we're just two places away from reaching the creme de la creme, A#1, numero uno, top dog, big cheese, ichiban-my favorite album of all time. We're not there yet though, so here's the next to check off the list:
Number 3: Yes - Fragile (1971)
The first time I heard this song was the shortened version at my first Yes concert during the 90125 tour. While I liked the tune, I didn't love it until I borrowed my Aunts three record live set Yessongs (1973). Where the 90125 band's version was faster and swervy, the Classic Yes live version had the thrilling rapidfire keyboards of Rick Wakeman and the jagged riffs of Steve Howe. I was so used to the heavy electric guitar driven live version that it took years to get used to the record version, driven by Howe's acoustic guitar. "Roundabout" with it's light touch eventually liked the best, Howe's feathery riffs and Bill Bruford's syncopated style gave Chris Squire's gutteral bass, Wakeman's swirling keys and Anderson's childlike voice room to roam. Of the live performances I've seen of the band (I've seen them eight times), my favorite was on the Union tour (1991). But then, I can say that about a lot of Yes songs because the Union concert is one of my all time favorite concerts. The double drum work of Bill Bruford and Alan White together in the midsection was incredible!
The song has become the litmus test of all Yes members, each player has put their own spin on it through the years. Below is 1973 and you can also see 1975, 1985, 1991 and 2004.
2. Cans And Brahms
Each member of the band got a solo track on Fragile, the first on the record was Rick Wakeman. Fragile marked Wakeman's debut with Yes and on this track it shows why they enticed him to join. A cavalcade of keyboard sounds mark this cut. Very regal and fancy sounding. Though my favorite solo is the "Excerpts From The Six Wives Of Henry VIII" with the police siren sounds on Yessongs, this was good too. My Dad likes Classical music, when he heard this in the car he was happy to tell me what song it was.
3. We Have Heaven
Jon Anderson had his solo song next, the characteristically spacey riddle filled "We Have Heaven". Sort of Beatlesish with the jangly guitar and a gaggle of repetitive phrases sung in different melodies. A riddle trapped inside of an enigma. Peace, Brother! Jon Anderson can get a little Hippie Dippy on his own. Are you not of The Body? Do you not know the will of Landru?
4. South Side Of The Sky
An unusually dark sounding song for Yes, with it's burgeoning groove and climbing vocal melody. Storm sounds add to the mystique as I feel more and more like one of those Lord of the Rings characters listening to this track. Let me help you Mr. Frodo! Like "Heart Of The Sunrise" it breaks down to a Wakeman piano bit in the middle before going into a softer vocal driven part of "La la la la la"s. Sort of like the eye of the tornado, all peaceful before the raging wind resumes. That section was a beautiful moment when I saw them perform this on the Classic Yes tour of 2002. The first time I heard "South Side..." was when my College roommate (also a big Yes fan) brought the record to our dorm room. It's still amazing.
5. Five Per Cent Of Nothing
The two Yes drummers, Bill Bruford and Alan White, are two of my favorites at that instrument in music history. Bruford's style was heavily jazz influenced and his solo cut reflects this as the band lays out its jazziest track for about a minute or so. I think the song was named for the band manager's cut, it's been awhile I think that's what it's for. I'm too lazy to look it up.
6. Long Distance Runaround
It took me time to warm up to this song, it seemed to simplistic at first. The piano and guitar running in this matching pattern that goes around and around, speeding up and slowing down in harmony. Another song that grew on me, particularly after the aforementioned Union tour where the Fragile lineup held the stage together for the last time. Listening to these five musicians attack the song twenty years after it was released was a marvel. Yes is about the synergy of talented musicians to me and "Long Distance Runaround" with it's scampering tact, pensive chorus and snazzy grooves is pure genius.
7. The Fish
Chris Squire had the best solo, the spidery "The Fish" that fades directly from the close of "Long Distance Runaround". That pick axe beat of Bruford and Squire's chipping and bubbling bass lines create a unique experience in sound. Add some chanting and you've got some Hippie madness going on. Squire is a killer bass player, one of the few to really expand on it as a lead instrument. Long a staple of his live bass solo (along with part of "Tempus Fugit"), when the Doctor is in you've got to pay attention as he plucks the strings and bounces around the stage. "The Fish" makes me think of those 70's style films where you see images in their negatives, little white fish darting around against a green backdrop like they were X-Rayed through a mist.
8. Mood For A Day
When it comes to acoustic guitar, Steve Howe is the best for me. His playing on "Mood For A Day" is like a nice sunny afternoon at the Renaissance Faire. Huzzah! Howe is one of the most physically expressive guitar players I've seen, not flashy but honest. His moves are awkward and gawky which enhances the honesty of his playing. When my wife and I saw them in '97 we had good seats and caught Howe on a night when he was gettin' down. The way he kicked into "Siberian Khatru" was stellar. Thanks Bunny!
9. Heart Of The Sunrise
It was rumored to be partially influenced by King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man" which does have a slight resemblance. Listening to "Heart Of The Sunrise" is like watching the seasons pass by, the rapid fire groove repeats and changes gradually each time it repeats again. Maybe the organ pattern has changed, maybe there's a drum roll instead of a straight beat, but it changes. One of their most dynamic songs, it rises and falls like the Ocean and geez it makes me feel all spiritual and shit. My strongest memory is seeing this song heavily featured in the movie Buffalo '66 where the flash editing matches the beat down to the sudden arch breaks. In second is when I recorded Classic Yes off the radio in the early 80's, I had an epiphany when I realized Anderson was using his voice purely as an instrument. Up to that point, I had never heard singing like that.
For fun, the link is of Yes in '98 so you can get a little Igor Khoroshev in on the keyboards. A fine keyboardist.
Yes has had many different musicians over the years and I'm a fan of pretty much all the incarnations of this group (though the jury is still out for me on temp singer David Benoit. I just don't know about him). They are the pinnacle of Art Rock and heady ambition. One last thing, I often wondered if Bachman Turner Overdrive's Not Fragile album was titled as a response to Yes? Probably not, but it sounds good doesn't it?